Sunday, 31 July 2016

Culture Vulture: July

Today’s blog post is going to be the first in a regular monthly series where I share books I’ve been reading, shows or films I’ve been to see, exhibitions I’ve visted, music I’ve been listening to as well as my favourite blog post from the previous month. There won’t always be something in each category, it will all depend on what I’ve been doing in the previous month, but I like these sort of monthly recap blog posts on other blogs I read, so I thought it would be nice to start doing my own.

Book: Red Queen; The Authorized Biography of Barbara Castle – Anne Perkins
As someone with very socialist views, I’ve been meaning to read this autobiography for some time. This autobiography looks at the interesting and ground breaking life of a woman who, in my view, set the standard for women in politics. Whilst Castle was a formidable socialist MP, the biography paints a picture of colourful character who, whilst striving to be an equal opponent in the very male dominated arena of the House of Commons, was also keen to stay connected to her femininity too. I found this book inspirational and extremely interesting as well as being exceptionally well written. My only real criticism is that there were areas of the book where it felt more like a history of the Labour party rather than a biography, nonetheless if you’re looking for an interesting and inspirational biography to read, then I recommend this one.

Book: What would Grace do? – Gina McKinnon
This one is an altogether more frivolous book than the other one I was reading. The sort that you can just pick up when you have a spare 10 minutes and want to read a short chapter about one of Hollywood’s classic icons. Not really a biography, the book does delve into the life of the actress and princess, but really on a more superficial level to try to impart life lessons for modern ladies. Nothing too taxing, and really not rocket science since we all (should) know that standing with good posture and basic manners will always be appreciated. That said, what this book did reveal was how much Princess Grace ‘created’ herself. Something which I think is true of many classic and modern celebrities, they go through the world with intent, making choices not only about their career paths but even the image they convey and the style they adopt in all areas of their life. It takes a lot of discipline, but stars such as Grace, Dita and even Marilyn Monroe show how well it can work. All in all, this was what I would term a nice book. It looks pretty, and the information contained within is very lighthearted, but for someone like me who loves all things vintage and glamorous, it’s a nice one to have on my bookshelf.
Blog post of the month: How to be Chic – How to Create a Calm and Joyous Life
I’ve only recently discovered the blog, ‘How to be Chic’ but it’s very much the sort of lifestyle blog that I love. The sort that makes you think, and even adapt your life in the smallest of ways in order to bring a sense of order, simple luxury and happiness to your life. In particular this month I loved the post ‘How to Create a Calm and Joyous Lifewhere the author Fiona Ferris examines the small changes you can make in your life that can so easily be overlooked, but which create really niggling worries at the back of your mind, disturbing your sense of calm and serenity. If you haven’t found Fiona’s blog already then I’d really recommend you paying a visit.

*Disclaimer: Some links contained within this post are affiliate links. Those links are clearly marked, and I will receive payment if you click or purchase using those links. All products discussed in this post however have been purchased by me*

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Style Inspiration: Work

I wouldn’t say I’ve hit a style rut, in general I still quite like my vintage inspired tastes. I would say, however, that perhaps I’ve lost a bit of direction recently and so I embarked on an exercise to start honing my style a little more. Firstly, I deleted the half dozen boards I had on Pinterest that were
dedicated to office style, country style, vintage style etc. etc. etc., and streamlined it to one ‘Style Inspiration’ board. Probably the only board on Pinterest where you will find images of a youthful Queen Elizabeth II cheek by jowl with images of Dita Von Teese. Then, I did the Wardrobe Architect
programme on the Colette Patterns blog, which was tremendously useful and I would recommend it to anyone looking to understand more about their own individual styles.

The programme confirmed some things that I already knew about my style preferences; that I like vintage styling and well‐groomed classic smart individuals are my style role models. It also made clear some things I wasn’t so aware of; I prefer pencil skirts and circle skirts over A‐line or gored, I
prefer ¾ length sleeves on all but jackets and coats, and I like wide fitting trousers.

Given that I spend the best part of 40 hours of my week in an office, I thought I would start by sharing with you my style inspiration for work. When I first started work I would often wear suits. Over the years my professional style has become a little more relaxed, and the more relaxed dress code of the office that I work in now doesn’t really encourage me to dress in a more formal professional style, well not with any frequency. If I’m truly honest though, I actually prefer a more formal style of dress for work, not least because, if I’m not going to wear a beautiful suit to work, then where am I going to wear one? The right suit will always smack of vintage styling and good grooming. Whilst I can’t simply overhaul my style overnight (oh to have the money for a shopping
spree), my influences for workwear for purchases and makes from here on in are:

Grace Kelly

So, I need to warn you in advance, my style inspirations are heavy on Royal influence, and despite thr many stylish Royals there have been, would any of them have been as beautiful and well‐presented as Princess Grace? Wearing slim fitting pencil skirt suits with roomy power bags and
demure heels, Grace epitomises the feminine professional look I aspire to.

Marilyn Monroe

Possibly better known for glamour puss evening dresses, Marilyn’s more understated smart suits should not be underestimated. Many produced by the talented designer Travilla, Marilyn’s suits do much to celebrate her femininity, whilst still looking groomed to perfection.

Queen Elizabeth II

I’d just like to point out, I’m referring to QEII circa 1940s – early 1960s, not the, albeit still smart, 90 year old of today. QEII (as I’m going to refer to her from here on in) demonstrated perfect smart British style, and I think in her youth was a very beautiful woman. I love her use of colour, if bright yellow/red/blue suits are deemed professional enough for Queenie, then they are professional enough for me too.

Marlene Dietrich

I once visited an exhibition of Marlene Dietrich’s clothes whilst on holiday in Cologne, Germany. They were tiny, and I was struck by how every detail was considered. I love how Marlene was able to
adopt a very masculine style, but still look totally feminine. It is a great skill, and in seeking out an odd trouser suit to add to my work wardrobe, I will definitely be inspired by Marlene’s approach.

What are your thoughts on workwear and who influences you?

*N.B. all photos are from Pinterest and do not belong to me

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Hand knitted Merino Wool Shawl

North Yorkshire Lifestyle blogger

While I was on leave in early June, I finally finished knitting this beautiful merino wool shawl. I got the pattern free with a knitting magazine way back at the end of last year, and originally started it back in January. Having put it to one side for far too long, I came back to it in April and couldn’t pick up from where I left off, meaning I had to unravel and restart.

That was something of a setback to me, but I resisted the urge to shelve the project altogether, not least because I’d spent over £25 on Sublime 100% merino wool (one skein project my foot). I’m usually really bad when it comes to the ‘difficult bits’ on projects like this. I’ve been knitting, in total, for less than a year, and coming across new techniques such as Russian cast offs, yarn overs and slip knits would ordinarily be enough to make me stop and decide to start a new hobby. I didn’t though, I went against my nature and decided to push through. If I’m ever going to be the good standard knitter that I aspire to be, then I have to scale these seemingly impossible techniques.

What I discovered from going against my nature on this project was that, they certainly aren’t impossible techniques, they simply require concentration and patience, oh, and YouTube. Even then, I will make mistakes, but that’s still not a reason to stop the project, but merely to take the decision whether to go back and rectify the errors, or to accept the imperfections and move on (I did both in this project). It’s strange, I usually flourish and perform at my best in the face of challenges, apart from when they are on craft projects.

Vintage fashion blogger UK
Hat - Primark; Shawl - Handmade; Top - TU at Sainsbury's; Skirt - Vintage; Bag - Vintage; Shoes - Debenhams

This is my fifth knitting project since starting, and not only am I proud of what I achieved with it, but everyone I have shown, even seasoned knitters have been genuinely impressed with it. The merino wool is a big win, given it’s so silky soft. The colour is absolutely beautiful and I have fashioned a unique garment which I know I am going to wear for years to come. It’s a really good feeling when someone compliments it, knowing that I created it, from scratch. This was the project that would either kill or encourage my love of knitting, and I’m pleased to say it’s the latter.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review: The Vermont Hotel - Newcastle

Last month I spent a few days up in Newcastle shopping and sightseeing. Newcastle is a place I’ve never visited until now, always considering it a little bit too far to travel when I lived further south, and not really having got around to it since moving North. It’s only a couple of hours away from home by train now, so I was excited to see what the city had to offer.
I had booked a twin room for a girly shopping/ sightseeing excursion in the beautiful 4-star luxury, Vermont Hotel. It’s right opposite the castle and in easy walking distance to the Quayside (for the Sage and Baltic), the train station and the town centre, and yet far enough outside of the town centre to mean that Friday night wasn’t plagued with noise from city revellers.

Vermont hotel Newcastle

The fact that both a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari were parked in front of the hotel told us all that we needed to know about the quality and clientele of the place. With it being a popular wedding venue in the city, I think that these cars belonged to the hotel for chauffeuring happy couples back to their receptions, but they certainly create the right sense luxury and selectivity to guests on arrival.

Parker, fetch the Rolls
We arrived particularly early, and it was mid-week so the hotel wasn’t too busy when we got there. Our rooms weren’t ready, we hadn’t expected them to be since it’s usual to not check in to hotels so early. Nonetheless, we were welcomed by one of the most inviting and luxurious reception areas of any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. With its beautiful sprawling sofas in shades of grey and white, it immediately felt like a very sophisticated environment. The customer service that we received from the moment we arrived was excellent, and the receptionist was more than happy to check us in and to store our luggage securely so that we could hit the shops immediately.

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The reception area by night

We didn’t return to the hotel until early evening, when we able to collect our keys and access the room. The hotel itself felt quite small and cosy and it wasn’t until we stepped into the lift to go to our floor that we realised how large it is. With several bars, including a popular cocktail bar, a restaurant and lots of rooms too, it was actually almost a complex in itself, whilst still maintaining that select country house hotel feel. Managing to pull that off in a city centre location too is no mean feat, and the Vermont had really pulled it off well.

The room itself was of a lovely standard. Twin double beds for maximum comfort (I hate arriving at a hotel to find two single beds), and all of the amenities you would expect. The bathroom, decorated in white marble, was particularly luxurious with complimentary ‘The White Company’ toiletries and a plentiful supply of white fluffy towels. My only regret was that I didn’t think to take photographs of the room, so you will just have to trust me when I say it was nice.
During the evenings we only frequented the same one bar, The Redwood. The bar was typically British with a large open fire, leather Chesterfield sofas and wing back chairs, serving a massive range of whiskies and Gin. Alas, I’m not a drinker of whisky and rarely touch Gin but thankfully their Brandy range wasn’t too bad either and gave me the opportunity to try a Hennessey, which I’ve never had before.  
The Redwood bar
Again, the customer service was excellent and there was a good range of cocktails and spirits on the menu too. Mostly I stuck to a lovely Sauvignon blanc, but they had a wide range of red, white and sparkling, as well as beers too so that all tastes were catered for.
A place to relax
We had pondered visiting the cocktail bar on the Friday evening, but decided against it in the end, preferring the laid back comfort of The Redwood bar. If I went back again, I might be a little more prepared for the opportunity of visiting the cocktail bar (i.e. have brought a suitable outfit with me), and the Bridge restaurant too which looked fabulous, but which we just didn’t find the time to visit.
Cocktails in the Redwood
There was nothing really that I could fault about the Vermont Hotel. It is well located, beautifully decorated and very welcoming. If I was to spend an evening in Newcastle again at some future date, it would definitely be number one on my list of places to stay, but I would make an attempt to sample more of what the hotel has to offer as I really don’t feel that I gave myself enough time to enjoy all of the facilities available.

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